1.) What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?
I remember liking poetry in elementary school – writing rhyming poems as a child. I don’t recall being exposed to contemporary poetry writers during those times. I guess I just loved words and poetry was my brains style.
I knew that my college major was going to be creative writing with a focus on poetry. Before starting college, I found a poetry book by Marge Piercy and loved it. Not long after that, I got into Anne Sexton and adored her. Sylvia Plath did not move me very much when I first encountered her, but in later years, she did.
Other poets I found incredibly moving and /or powerful early on included Frank Stanford, C.D. Wright, Raymond Carver, Tess Gallagher, Brenda Shaughnessy, Tory Dent, Lucia Perillo, Margaret Atwood, Marie Howe, Lucie Brock-Broido, Larissa Szporluk, Sapphire, Evelyn Lau, and Lynn Crosbie, just to name a few favorites. Many of these writers are still alive, still writing, and still quite liked by me – although interestingly enough, I seem to prefer some of their earlier collections better than their more recent ones. That is not the case with all of them, but it is with about half.
In more recent years, I am more interested in/attuned to reading poets who are my age, give or take 15 years or so. I have oodles of favorite contemporary poets that fit into that spectrum; just a couple handfuls of them are Ariana Reines, Lara Glenum, Danielle Pafunda, Johannes Goransson, Karyna McGlynn, Chelsey Minnis, Rebecca Loudon, Kristy Bowen, and Margaret Bashaar.
2.) How has your own work changed over time and why?
After years of working hard on my poetry writings, I started to meld and fuse and garner success about five years ago. I went from feeling semi-unsuccessful and unappreciated to feeling wonderfully confident and passionate about my poetic infusions, which began spurting forth more quickly and resiliently and becoming more widely published by magazines I had adored for years. I also started my own small press, Blood Pudding Press, publishing small, hand-designed, oddly artsy chapbooks by myself and others. I also had lots of other chapbooks published by other small presses, plus my first full-length poetry book, Horrific Confection, published my BlazeVOX in late 2008. I read and wrote large amounts of poetry and loved doing so.
Then early in 2010, I suffered from a sudden unexpected health issue – a carotid artery dissection, which caused that area to bleed out by 99%, which caused several aneurysms, which caused a stroke, which caused a side effect called aphasia. The area of my brain most affected was a part that had to do with word retrieval. For a couple months after, I could hardly read or write; could barely remember certain easy little things or memorize. I felt terribly upset that I might not be able to read or write poetry anymore, when poetry had been my primary passion in life for many years, and now all of my passions seemed to be ebbing.
Fortunately, I did get substantially better and found out that my poetic passions did not die. I could still write poetry, but my recent poetry is shorter and otherwise different than it used to be. Shorter and different is not a bad thing.
I am still a slower writer and reader than I used to be, though, which sometimes makes me worry that other writers might think I’ve become less passionate, less interested, or less supportive, because I’m not buying anywhere near as many books as I used to. This is not because I’ve lost my interest in poetry, but because I already own more than 100 unread books, from literary magazines to chapbooks to full-length poetry books.
I do think it’s important for poets to try their best to help support other poets by buying (or trading) other poets’ books, publishing other poets, and/or occasionally writing reviews of other poet’s books. Unfortunately, at this time, I really can’t afford to design/print /mail as many chapbooks as I used to; nor can I write reviews or articles as well as I used to. That sometimes saddens and disappoints me, but I haven’t given up.
Since I can’t afford to create as many print chapbooks as I used to, I started an online blog style literary magazine called Thirteen Myna Birds.
I do still publish occasional print chapbooks for Blood Pudding Press – most recently including two of my own chapbooks as part of my involvement with the Dusie Kollektive – Soft Foam in 2010 (which includes poems written before my stroke but was designed/published shortly thereafter) and POST-STROKE in 2011 (my first small chapbook filled with poems written after my stroke).
I also published Angel Face Trailer, a chapbook including my poems with Italian translations by poet/translator Letizia Merello.
I am currently working on a new poetry chapbook, LETTERS FROM ROOM 27 OF THE GRAND MIDWAY HOTEL by Margaret Bashaar.
In addition to chapbooks, I am also submitting my second full-length poetry collection, Deadly Doll Head Dissection.
3.) Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?
In addition to poetry, I have been influenced by different kinds of art, music, and movies – sometimes aesthetically and sometimes content wise.
Content wise, my influences have often included, in one form or another: eating/being eaten, fetish-ism, desire, horror, and deviation from the norm/not fitting in to a mold.
If I re-read some older poems of mine with darkly fetishistic slants, I feel like some of their content is filled with kinky desires; unsure whether I want to control or be controlled.
More recently, although still interested in kinky desires, I do not want to control anyone else or be controlled by anyone else on any large scale. I want to be myself – and ideally, I want others to like and desire me for being myself. However, that would not be easy because I am often insecure, unsure and undesired by myself.
I seem to be brimming with issues and mixed feelings galore. Most of my thoughts and feelings are not clear cut or black and white. Instead of becoming more confident and secure feeling as I get older, I seem to become less confident, more uncertain, and more second (third fourth fifth sixth) guessing. All of these multi-shaped, multi-colored formations of me infuse my poetry. As a result, some readers have perceived my poetry as feminist, some as anti-feminist, some as horror movie like.
Some people consider me to be quite open minded; others have called me close minded. I definitely don’t consider myself to be close minded, but sometimes my mind malfunctions and/or expresses itself wrong when I try to speak too quickly. Oftentimes, I would rather express myself via writing, especially poetry.
Strange content repeatedly affixes itself then bursts itself out of my head, sometimes repetitively. Despite such repetitions, these are real pieces of me. My poetry is not fake. One thing I hate is fakery.
4.) What are your plans for the future?
I am unsure. I seem to be in the midst of a weird, unstable, uncertain part of my life.
Part of me craves love; part of me doesn’t quite believe in love anymore.
Part of me is unhappy about my reading skills being so much slower than they used to be. Instead of those skills working as naturally and enjoyably as they used to, I have to concentrate much harder when reading – and if I do that for an extended time period, I often get a headache due to that intense concentration; sometimes it even bothers my stent-infused ear area.
As a person who used to love reading quickly but in detail and in-depth and for lengthy time periods, my current reading skills trouble me.
I used to subscribe to and enjoy several magazines, but I don’ think I’ve read a single magazine issue in its entirety for over a year now. As far as literary magazines, every time I’m in one (plus sometimes when I’m not) I used to be super-excited about reading ALL of its content, mere days after I received it. Now I have quite a few literary magazines which I’ve received more than a year ago and also have not finished reading yet; ditto for poetry chapbooks. I hope to read all of this material eventually, but what if by then I am way behind on more recent poetry.
When I think too much about my slow reading skills, I often feel so sad and borderline depressed that I sometimes start crying, because what if it is going to be this way for the rest of my life now? Having to concentrate so hard while reading, that anything more than a small dose often gives me a headache? Ugh. That is very much less than ideal for someone who used to be an extremely passionate reader as well as writer.
Reading used to really inspire me, turn me on, create a passion-infused tingle-fest!
I desire to experience those special tingling sensations again.
5.) If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?
A pussy-centric, sometimes darkly delicious, sometimes awfully horrific, mixed feeling lexicon often on the brink and uncertain what my brink is. I feel like I’m ambiguously circular and sometimes oddly misshapen. I hope my poetic passion continuously infuses itself into me. I hope that my circle shapes slowly rise up.
6.) I am interested in your thoughts on memory and love. In, “Alternative uses for love letters,” you state, “Personally, I think that dissemination of or creation from would be a more respectful, fitting, and celebratory way to honor love letters rather than destroying them. Creating something from them strikes me as a better way to honor memories.” Are your ideas of transforming the language of love letters consistent with a desire to change the memory of love?
No I am not very interested in CHANGING memories. I am interested in KEEPING memories; keeping personal remembrances, even if they are parts of the past rather than the present.
I don’t like the idea of love letters being easily thrown away, even if that love is now gone. It used to exist; it meant something; it must have been real for a time, in one way or another. Just because something ended does not mean every remnant should be pitched as if it didn’t even exist.
Some people would disagree with this perspective and might think something along the lines of, ‘Get rid of it, forget about it, move on’. My perspective is more like, ‘Keep pieces of it, even while you are moving on’. I don’t think moving on should involve forgetting or ignoring.
My poetry chapbook “Soft Foam” relates to this subject matter to an extent. Here is a piece of that collection’s ‘Concept’:
“My husband lost his first wife to cancer, suddenly. When he & I became involved, I found myself surrounded by the artifacts of a past life… The dead have the power to impact even those who did not know them in real life through residual documentation and more. There will always be mixed feelings, uncertainties, what ifs. There will always be others at the peripheries. ‘Soft Foam’… could be the calmed down version of a violent frothing, but it could also be something that is purposely sprayed into rifts and crevices to contain the gaping. To put it another way, it could be ebbing & flowing expression versus repression – and although I usually think that expression is far preferable to repression, I also understand that defense mechanisms take place for a reason”.
I know that if you have lost love, it can be hard to think about/deal with your feelings a lot, so to some extent, you do zone out sometimes. My husband noted above is now my ex and part of the reason we lost each other is because he couldn’t deal well with my health issue. The ending of our partnership was no fun at all, but does that mean I’m going to throw away all of our photos, letters, and other pieces of him plus all my memories about the good parts of our relationship as if they didn’t even happen and didn’t really matter or mean anything; as though eight years of my life barely even existed? No.
Even if some people think I should forget about it and move on (or only remember the negative parts of our relationship and move on), that is not how I want to be. I don’t want to focus on only the negatives; nor do I want to exaggerate only the positives; I want to remember parts of both. That doesn’t mean I don’t need to zone out from time to time, but I am not going to quickly permanently zone out.
Instead a lot of our photos and letters are stored in boxes for the time being. Sometimes I feel as if some of my emotion is temporarily stored in boxes too.
7.) Your blog post “Challenging Words & Images” – illustrates your relationship with language after your experience with a stroke one and half years ago. You say, “Words used to be easier for my brain than images, but with the way my brain is working these days, it sometimes seems to be the other way around. Although I don’t think that’s a particularly positive or negative thing, sometimes it really overwhelms me.” Has this prescribed a different avenue for you to share your poetic craft and or changed your poetry aesthetic?
My writing and reading is considerably slower than it used to be. Also, my poems tend to be shorter than they used to be. However, thoughts and lines and art snippets suddenly pop out of my head faster than they used to sometimes – and some of them are odd images.
I wonder if perhaps I should try to experiment with painting again. I consider myself a real poet; I don’t consider myself a real painter; but I did undergo an oddly enjoyable painting phase many years back and perhaps I ought to give that another whirl soon.
One of my sister’s owns a paint your own pottery shop and I’ve been helping there from time to time in the last year and a half, as well as painting there occasionally. I’ve mostly painted skulls.
A few months ago, a poet friend of mine gave me a red skull heart journal – and suddenly I realized that after having a health experience from which I could have died, but luckily stayed alive, I now seemed to suddenly be semi- infiltrated with skull art, as though skulls were a semi-scary, semi-scarred, darkly creative part of my life.
I’ve received skull jewelry from a man with a skull tattoo, who I happened to be in a Day of the Dead skull art space with last year. I’ve received skull socks from poet and artist friends. I sent skull cards out the end of last year. I’ve painted skull magnets and a skull box at the pottery shop.
I’ve also used the word skull in several new poems of mine.
8.) Your poem Aftermath reads, “I could be a super-sexual séance underneath/ a more luscious arrangement of teeth./ My porno-horrific rippling sensations will turn/ into telepathic tinsel. My misshapen tonsils will grow/ into succulent ornaments to float over your head./ I’m not a nightmare./ I’m a dark delightful dream.” Has the relationship to your body, mind, spirit, and feminism changed in your post-stroke experience?
My stroke did not affect my body in a significant visual manner, although it did cause substantial depression for many months, which seemed to cause a succession of gray hairs. Also, my surgery involved having a stent inserted into my upper neck area beneath my brain area and even though that has healed, occasionally the area below my left ear feels oddly uncomfortable, particularly when I get stressed out.
I still have trouble with lots of easy little words and am not able to explain certain things as well or specifically as I used to. Other than that, the stroke did not affect my ability to talk. It did not affect my ability to walk or otherwise physically maneuver, although for a long time, I felt nervous about exercising. It did not affect my off-kilter feminist sensibilities.
It did not change my overall personality, but it did (and still does) seem to have a significant impact on my mind, in terms of some of my thoughts/feelings/spirits. Actually, I don’t think it’s the stroke in and of itself that had this effect; I think it was more like the quick fusion of having a serious health issue and then losing my husband too.
I thought he was the love of my life, but he is not a significant part of my life anymore, and so my thoughts/feelings about love have changed. I don’t know what it is and I don’t know if I believe in it anymore, at least not on a romantic level. Despite that, part of me still craves romance and affection and passionate intensity, but…
I tend to have low self-esteem, feel even more insecure than I used to, and more uncertain about everything including my own future. I sometimes feel like I’m not really sure who I am anymore. I’m unsure what to focus on for the rest of my life. Other people will give me suggestions, but they’re not me and they’re not my brain. Me and my brain need to figure this out.
I’ve heard stories about people who suffer from a serious health issue, live, and then feel so lucky to be alive, that they become MORE loving, feel more strongly about what is really important to them, and know more about what they need to focus on for the rest of their life. Not me. I sometimes feel LESS.
I feel like I have less power, less strength, less belief in love, and sometimes I even feel like I have less passion. To me, the ‘less passion’ is the worst part. I used to feel very good and lucky about being someone who had a lot of passion, but now I’m not entirely sure that I do, but maybe I still do and those mixed feelings are just fusing with my mixed love issues.
I sometimes feel as if I am buzzing around from one feeling to the next like an unstable swarm; like a bee sea creature hybrid who doesn’t know how to fly or swim.
(These interview questions were asked by Jillian Mukavetz and appeared upon her Women’s Quarterly Conversation online site, here: https://womensquarterlyconversation.wordpress.com/)
(You can find out more about Juliet Cook’s poetry via her website at http://julietcook.weebly.com/.)
(More articles about her stroke and aphasia are available here on her Associated Content site.)